Sunday, April 09, 2006

Pearl Jam - Vitalogy

Week two of my countdown for the new Pearl Jam album, due for release on May 1st. I suspect this may be a controversial choice for some, but it's my list alright?!!? To be fair, it is very difficult to try and separate most of their albums because, well, they are so damn good!!

To start with I must make clear, I think this is Eddie's album. He wrote the lyrics on every song, and many of the songs themselves relate to his personal situation at the time (Not for You being a good example). However, it does show the band at their most experimental, and it also started to show that they were not afraid to move away from their mainstream audience. In fact, they embrace the very idea of alienating some of the core audience to produce a more difficult sound. The album does remain immensely satisfying once you see past some of the more artsy attempts.

The opener, Last Exit is a particular favourite of mine. Opening with a jazz style intro, it breaks into one of there more rockier efforts. Clearly about Cobain's death (much of the album was a reflection on life and death - hence Vitalogy, the study of life), it has a pulsating drum beat that drives the song, combined with a simple yet effective riff. It is a particularly passionate opening to the album, and remains one of my all time favourite Pearl Jam songs.

Spin the Black Circle highlights the difficult route they were embarking upon as a band. The first single from the album proved a surprise when it was released. It contrasted greatly with their last single release (Dissident), and seemed an odd choice for a single. It was clearly picked to move away from a radio-friendly sound, and it was a clear two fingered salute to the corporate establishment...they were going to do things their way.

Similarly, their second single, Not for You, seemed an interesting choice. This song appeared to be a reaction to the massive invasion of space that accompanied their sudden rise to fame (both Eddie and Mike struggled to cope with the exposure they suffered at the hands of the media). Another track that wasn't exactly radio friendly, with lines like 'small my table/sits just two', it is clear what Eddie was getting at.

Next follows Tremor Christ and Nothingman. Both are beautiful songs, the former being a little Beatle-esque and the latter being a classic example of Eddie's wonderful voice. Tremor Christ doesn't get mentioned all that often, but I kinda like it. It appears a typical PJ song, building slow before building into a passionate close.

After the gentle melody of Nothingman comes the frantic Whipping. Another upbeat rock track, it has long been a PJ favourite and has been played on tour since around the release of Vs. The lyrics in the booklet are written under a letter to Clinton campaigning for action to be taken against some pretty nasty tactics by anti-abortionists. The song clearly plays on these themes and it is another of my all time favourites. As is Corduroy. Another hint to Eddie's state of mind at the time ('I'll end up alone like I began'), it has also proved to be a staple track on the live circuit. It is also the only song on the album that does not have the lyrics (full or edited)reprinted in the booklet (replaced by an x-ray from Eddie's dental records).

The album also contains several artsy type efforts. Instead of dealing with them sequentially, I thought I would group them together and deal with them in one go. Pry, to is essentially the sound of Eddie spelling P.R.I.V.A.C.Y as the background music fades in and out. Bugs is a rambling, paranoid track backed by an accordian about, well, bugs!!! Aye Davanita is an enjoyable instrumental type track. I think of all the experimental tracks here, this is my favourite...it stands up to repeated listening. Hey Foxymophandlemama, that's me is a difficult song to listen to. Essentially, it is the sound of a young boy talking about suicide...it certainly makes you feel uneasy.

The remaining tracks are all classics. Satan's Bed is another all-time favourite of mine. Opening with a whip crack, it becomes a bit of a stomping track whose chorus I can't stop singing (I'm listening to it right now!). Some of the lyrics are fantastic, I love the line 'I shit and I stink/I'm real join the club' and 'model, role model, roll some models in blood/get some flesh to stick, so them look like us'. Betterman is an old track from Eddie's Bad Radio days. Again building from a slow start, it turns into a passionate song about a woman who is mistreated by her husband but keeps going 'back again' because she 'can't find a betterman'. Immortality is clearly a song relating to Cobain and his death. It wrestles with suicide, persecution and the choices that need to be made. It is a beautiful song, and is a fine example of their more downbeat songs.

Overall, I really love this album. It was really difficult to separate it from my other choices, but then I said that was what I was going to do. There are many classic songs on this album, and it has stood the test of time (I can hardly believe I bought this album 12 years ago!). It was written at a very difficult time for the band, I later discovered that they were very close to splitting around this time. All I can say is, thank you Jack Irons for ensuring this wasn't the last of their classic albums.

Stand-out tracks: last exit, whipping, corduroy, satan's bed, immortality